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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

UN fails to secure Libyan peace deal after three missed deadlines

A leaked copy of the plan, seen by The National, revealed that chief negotiator Bernardino Leon is proposing a highly complex and possibly unworkable system of governance.
Ageila Saleh, Libya's acting head of state, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (R) meet during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 29, 2015. Don Emmert/AFP Photo
Ageila Saleh, Libya's acting head of state, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (R) meet during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 29, 2015. Don Emmert/AFP Photo

Geneva // The United Nations Libya peace process ended in shambles in New York with chief negotiator Bernardino Leon admitting that after a year of talks, he had failed to mediate a deal.

A meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly, originally planned to mark the success of the UN in ending Libya’s civil war, was instead left to contemplate its failure.

After 12 months of talks, six drafts of the peace plan and three missed deadlines, Libya’s parties have failed to sign the proposed deal and the UN looks powerless to bring about an agreement.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who chaired the gathering of more than 60 states on Friday, announced a fourth deadline for the proposed deal to be signed — October 20.

“No agreement is perfect, but this document will help Libya move beyond the chaos and toward the creation of a stable and democratic state with a clear legal framework,” Mr Ban said.

US secretary of state John Kerry declared that “the time is now” for a deal, but, like Mr Ban, said nothing about what the UN will do if Libyans refuse to agree.

Meanwhile in Libya, heavy fighting continued on Saturday in several parts of the country. In the eastern city of Benghazi, the recognised government’s forces — fighting under General Khalifa Haftar — continued a two-week old offensive named Operation Doom against the Shura Council militant alliance. The grouping includes Ansar Al Sharia, blamed by Washington for the 2013 murder of its ambassador, Chris Stevens.

Launched on 19 September, the offensive has seen heavy air and artillery bombardment of four areas of the city still held by Shura forces, with some districts reduced to rubble. The army has reported 53 militants dead and 24 soldiers, with local hospitals saying they have had only a handful of civilian casualties.

Amid such destruction, pressure for the UN to secure a deal is mounting. Outside powers are not just concerned about Libya’s civil war, but also the growth of ISIL and the migrant smuggling trade to Europe, which is being fuelled by the ongoing chaos.

The chances of a peace deal being reached are now slight, however, after Mr Leon decided last month that his current draft cannot be changed.

When the third deadline for an agreement expired on September 21, the chief negotiator announced that his “final” plan was ready, and predicted it would be signed by Friday’s meeting in New York. He said “our work is done”, declaring that the document cannot be changed.

Mr Leon will hold fresh meetings next week with Libyan delegates from the country’s two rival administrations, but with the UN insisting that the current draft is a “take it or leave it” offer, there is no more room to negotiate.

Despite promising a “transparent” process, Mr Leon has not made public his plan for a so-called “government of national accord”, sending it only to the rival parliaments.

But a leaked copy of the plan, seen by The National, revealed that Mr Leon is proposing a highly complex and possibly unworkable system of governance.

While Libya’s internationally recognised parliament, the Tobruk-based house of representatives, would keep its legislative powers, key decisions must be agreed by a “state council”. This council would be made up of members from the general national congress (GNC), a rival parliament based in Tripoli.

The most emotive issue of all — the question of who commands the national army — is left out of Mr Leon’s plan altogether. Instead, the document calls for the house of representatives, the state council and a joint executive to decide how to do that themselves, something that is likely to produce deadlock.

Under the plan, the house of representatives would lose two of its top three officials, and see the third downgraded. Prime minister Abdullah Al Thinni and army commander Gen Haftar would be removed from their positions, while parliament president Ageila Saleh would no longer be head-of-state.

No wonder, perhaps, that in an interview in New York last week, Mr Saleh told the Associated Press he did not expect a peace deal before October 20. Instead, he called for further negotiations.

The GNC, meanwhile, fears that they have not been given enough power under the deal, with responsibility for legislation in the hands of its Tobruk rival.

Foreign observers worry that Mr Leon’s plan cannot work without robust institutions to enforce it.

John Hamilton, a director of London-based business consultancy Cross Border Information, said a political solution must give political autonomy to the key institutions, including the central bank and the national oil corporation. If not, “then the country is going to run along the same lines as it is at the moment,” he said.

After October 20, the mandate of the house of representatives, elected in June last year, expires, making the UN peace plan redundant. If a deal cannot be reached before then, a question mark will be left over the identity of the legitimate government in Libya, and over whether the UN has a role in mediating an end to the war.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae